Inside Out (Australia)
HEART OF GLASS
Introducing light to a heritage property was the key to this amazing Melbourne renovation
Families change shape as their children grow, which happened predictably a few years ago to the four occupants of this home in Melbourne’s south. “We love the area and have been here for a long time, but we simply outgrew our other house,” says the owner. As luck would have it, a charming terrace house soon became available nearby. Despite the property’s tired state and an outdated 1980s extension with no redeeming features, the remaining heritage elements drew the locals in. “There was an integrity to the original rooms at the front of the house,” says the owner. The home’s orientation also appealed, as light is obviously critical in a terrace. Its rear elevation faced north, so there was definitely potential to open up the back and bring in a lot more natural light.
Emma Mitchell of EMArchitects was asked to design the extension, with a focus on harnessing that light. With the big picture locked in and construction by Matt Ritchie of MR Contracting underway, Sonia Simpfendorfer, from Melbournebased interior-design firm Nexus Designs, was brought on board to reimagine the interior. “The clients wanted practicality and functionality – and for it to look fantastic,” Sonia explains. “They knew themselves well and briefed their design team clearly.”
Architect, interior designer and client were united in their vision to honour the property’s original character. “Good heritage homes have a scale and solidity that is very valuable. The key is to introduce the natural light and functionality that suits how we like to live now,” says Sonia. The family prioritised green space, briefing Emma to reduce the building footprint slightly so that more area could be given over to the garden.
To make way for the new open-plan kitchen and dining area at the back, the existing extension was to be demolished. “A higher ceiling in that space would then create a feeling of spaciousness without needing a big footprint,” says Emma.
Black steel-framed windows were requested from the get-go by the homeowners, who also wanted skylights to bring in as much light as possible. And as is the case for any household with children, maximising storage was a priority.
“This house is stunning but also feels simple and honest. Now that it’s painted, the old brick wall in the kitchen has such a beautiful texture”
SONIA SIMPFENDORFER, INTERIOR DESIGNER
Sonia was asked to give the interior fit-out a fresh, clean look and improved functionality. “The clients were very clear that they were looking for simplicity – for fewer finishes, not more – and for visual and functional streamlining,” Sonia offers. “They weren’t distracted or tempted by trends or fashion; they just wanted the good stuff!” The designer says she developed a refined material and colour palette that “walks the line between timeless graphic crispness and the warmth and practicalities necessary for comfortable family living”.
Glimpses of the original brick walls indicate the transition from old to new, providing an enduring backdrop for Sonia’s work. “I like to identify the things that keep the value and beauty of a heritage house while being ruthless about what needs to be changed to make it actually work,” she says.
Neat joinery solutions and clever space planning throughout the home delivered on the clients’ request for optimised storage and an uncluttered look. Sonia also curated furniture and lighting schemes that dovetail beautifully into the updated section as well as the existing rooms. “The pieces were chosen in response to the scale of the spaces, as well as comfort and sculptural form,” she explains.
“I love how much storage we achieved, and the glimpses through to the next spaces that make you want to explore”
Confidence and a clear vision underpin this striking home’s creation. Its nimble contractors and the homeowners’ sharp decision-making ensured a smooth renovation journey, despite a mid-term layout reshuffle on the second level and a tweak of the joinery design on the ground floor. “The clients were very decisive, which meant the build powered on,” says Sonia.
The outcome is an elegant expression of well-designed simplicity, with an overall feeling of calm. In the renovated spaces, uncomplicated forms are a fitting modern companion to the terrace’s original elements, such as the marble fireplace in the front bedroom and the brick walls. Now 12 metres of sleek joinery runs through the living and kitchen areas and hides masses of storage and a study nook, while the north-facing wall of glass framed in black steel overlooks the garden and separate garage with its office space and bathroom above.
Daily life has definitely improved for the owners and their children, and they are excited to see how the home evolves in coming years: “As the children grow, it’s impossible to predict exactly what they’ll need, but we are really happy here now.”
See more residential projects by EMArchitects at emmamitchell.com.au. Inspired work by Nexus Designs can be viewed at nexusdesigns.com.au
Natural light was a priority for the owners, who now have plenty of it flowing into their terrace through strategically placed skylights and bigger windows where possible.